One of our goals as writers is to find our own voice, a unique voice that appeals to an audience. Hopefully a large audience with excess cash. But being completely original is pretty much next to impossible. And we all probably have that one favorite author we hope someone will compare us to someday. (For me, that is Margaret Atwood. No, I don't actually expect this comparison to ever be made, especially as I get older and my writing moves more and more in another direction. But hey, a girl can dream, right?)
At any rate, recently when I was procrastinating via the internet, I ran across a writing analyzer that will tell you which famous author you write like. Excellent! I decided to run an experiment to see if I consistently write like the same author and so selected various pieces of writing to run through the analyzer. Here's the results.
Writing Selection #1: An excerpt from the YA novel I am currently editing. It is in first person and my narrator is a pretty snarky 16 year-old girl.
I confess I haven't read The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy but the fact that I've heard of it says something, and I know many people who love it, so Mr. Adams has officially been added to my TBR list.
Writing Selection #2: An excerpt from another novel I have in the works. This one is geared at a slightly younger audience -- tweens of both genders, I'm thinking -- and is in third person. The MC is an 11-year-old boy who doesn't really know what's going on a lot of the time.
I loved Jack London when I was younger and since the selection was from an adventure novel for younger readers, I think this is a fair comparison.
Selection #3: I decided to switch to a short story and selected Dog Universe which is told in first person, present tense -- something rare for me -- and remains one of my favorite stories that I've ever written.
Okay, now I greatly enjoyed the Harry Potter series, of course, but I am not sure this particular selection shared much in common, voice-wise, with Ms. Rowling. However, I will take it.
Selection #4: Since I've had the most success publishing my flash fiction, I thought I would take my short short The Rope and use it for the next selection. This is a rather dark piece that tends to make a lot of people who read it uncomfortable.
Given the tone and dark nature to this piece, I think this is definitely a fair comparison, though I haven't read much of Mr. Palahniuk's work myself.
Selection #5: Okay, so for my final selection I decided to turn to my first ever novel, which is unique in that it is more of a "novel in stories". I selected the first story -- a third person literary story with stays pretty close to the 30-something, female MC -- and got my result. Then I decided as an added layer to the experiment, I would take two more stories from the manuscript and try them both separately from the first in an attempt to test both my consistency as a writer and the analyzer's consistency. I was pleased to see I got the same results for all three stories.
Okay, so this one sent me scurrying to Wikipedia to educate myself and while this didn't exactly familiarize me with his particular writing style, I feel like he is a person worth further educating myself on, and the comparison is a flattering one, I am thinking.
So, in true scientific fashion, now that the process of the experiment is done, I need a conclusion. I have to say, I am pleased that I came up with different results with every selection, except in the last case where I chose selections from the same longer work and thus wanted my result to be consistent since I hoped the voice was consistent for all three selections. In conclusion, I think that the fact that the analyzer chose vastly different authors to compare my writing to ultimately means one thing:
So who do you write like?
Happy Writing, all!
One year ago today I did something I'd been toying with for a few years -- something I'd wanted to do, something I knew I needed to do, but for whatever reason, I wasn't ready to take the plunge. When I did finally decide to go for it, it took me no time at all to act. One year ago today, I launched my website. It's gone through a few changes in design and content, but I'm pretty happy with where it landed. I love adding to my blog and I cherish the connections I never would have made if I hadn't put myself out there. It's been a great experience and one I hope to continue for years to come.
Personally the last year has been on of ups and downs for me as well. I finally got the nerve to leave the office job I was unhappy in to pursue writing and teaching. While money has been tight, I have felt more fulfilled and happy than I have in years. I feel I have grown as both a writer and a teacher and have no regrets in that department. I finished the first draft of a novel I have been working on for almost 5 years and from the first chapter to the last, it is almost a record of how my writing has matured. This year I experienced an unexpected loss when my brother passed away. This only reaffirmed what is most important in life. It has certainly been a year of growth.
I had big plans to celebrate my first anniversary here by doing my first ever giveaway, but I am going to hold off on that for just a bit. I'll keep you posted. In the meantime, happy writing!
Today I got up and wrote out a grocery shopping list, then went to work out, met my sweetie at the market where we shopped and then together made some soup to put in the crock pot for dinner tonight. Now I am sitting at my computer writing, and he is watching football. This is a pretty typical Sunday for us, nothing unusual. Except it's not a typical Sunday at all. It is a day filled with memories.
Today, as a nation, we remember those lost ten years ago. I was on my way to work, listening to NPR when the first plane hit. I remember thinking it was a freak accident. I arrived at work and didn't hear any further reports until after the second plane had hit and someone came into our office and announced what had happened. We spent the rest of the day huddled around radios and TVs trying to comprehend all the ways our world had just changed and not even coming close.
Daddy's Little Girl
Today as a daughter, I remember my father who would have celebrated his 80th birthday today. Just a few days ago marked fifteen years since his death. It was three weeks into my first semester of college, and I was finally starting to feel settled in, like I would make some friends and make the most of my college experience. I came back to my hall to find my aunt and uncle in that tiny room I shared with three other girls waiting to break the news. I was numb for so long after that, trying to sift through a raw grief for a man who I loved, but who had such a different world view from the one I had grown into. We weren't on the best of terms when he passed, and I found myself grieving not just for him, but for the opportunity to restore our relationship to the way it once had been.
Me and my big brother
Today, I grieve as a sister, as this day also marks four weeks since my brother unexpectedly passed away. Today I think of his young children who very likely won't remember much about their father as they grow older. This adds to my grief. So it becomes the responsibility of those of us who do remember to share stories of not just their father, but of their grandfather who they never got to meet. We are the memory keepers. We pass stories on, often casually, not conscious of the fact that we may be giving a precious gift to the listener.
Writers are usually more deliberate with the stories we tell and by writing our stories down, they stand a greater chance of lasting for generations. We are the memory keepers.
Our nation, our world, will never forget 9/11. Ten years passed in the blink of an eye and there is now a whole generation of young people who don't remember -- who don't know what it was to exist in a pre-9/11 world. Who cannot fully comprehend what it was to witness the tragedy of that day as it unfolded before us. But it gives me comfort that the stories of 9/11 are being told. Survivors, family and friends of those lost, rescue workers. Those who witnessed it firsthand, and those who were 1000 miles away. All have stories to tell -- either from that day or stories honoring the memory of someone they lost. It is so important that so many of these stories are being written down in books and blogs, private journals, emails and letters -- they are being written, guaranteeing that as the decades continue to pass, they will not be forgotten.
Easter Best (yes, my dress matches my bunny's)
As long as I write about my father and my brother, both stories I remember and stories that have been told to me, then my brother's children will know their father and their grandfather. They will know of camping trips and good-natured teasing. They will know about road trips from Colorado to Kansas every summer, and fireworks on my grandparents' farm. They will know about watching the Denver Broncos on Sundays. They will know about the Transformer vs. My Little Pony wars that were waged in our living room. They will know about the time my father surprised me by delivering a box full of giant ice cream bars shaped like feet to my second grade classroom so I could celebrate my birthday with my classmates.
I feel driven to write it all down so that no only can my brother's children know our family stories, but so that their children and their children's children will know and never forget. And maybe some of them will be inspired to take on the duty of being a memory keeper as well. Write down your memories, keep them for always, share them with those you love, and those you love will never be forgotten.
Many, many thanks to those of you who reached out and offered your condolences on the loss of my brother. I really appreciate it. I am attempting to get back into a usual routine and so, without further adieu, a good old fashioned blog post on writing. . .
Whether we are writers or not, I think most people have a place they can retreat to – their thinking spot, the place where they go to make sense of the world. For writers, that spot does double duty as it often becomes the place we escape to when we need inspiration – when writer’s block is beating us down or an idea needs to marinate just a little longer. Sometimes part of the process involves just staring out a window for long periods of time without any interruption. This isn’t always easy to achieve when you have a job and a family putting demands on you – hence the need for a place to escape to.
Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool
It’s no secret that I love Chicago. I have many favorite thinking spots that I can haunt when needed. I can always walk along Lake Michigan, weather permitting, or venture over to Lincoln Park Zoo which has the added benefit of bordering the Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool and the Lincoln Park Conservatory, all beautiful places to sit and think and write. When I have the time to get out of town, I can hop a train and go to the Chicago Botanic Garden. If it happens to be the dead of winter or pouring rain when the need for a thinking spot arises, then the Chicago Art Institute or the Chicago Cultural Center offer excellent escapes and inspiration. But the fact is, even with all these beautiful, awe-inspiring Chicago spots, when it comes to a thinking spot for me as a writer, nothing beats a good old fashioned train ride.
Chicago Botantic Garden
One of the reasons I wanted to move to Chicago in the first place, and one of the reasons I fell in love with this city, is the public transportation here. It is just so easy to not have a car in Chicago. I haven’t driven in over nine years now, and I honestly don’t miss it at all. One of the benefits to taking public transportation that came as a surprise, however, was how great riding trains has been for my writing.
No, seriously. Riding trains has been great for me as a writer.
First of all, it is guilt-free staring out the window time. If I am rolling a new idea around or a problem I am stuck on in my WIP, what better way to pass a train ride than to stare out the window and think it over? It is time when I am not expected or obligated to do anything else. I don’t have to worry about cleaning the house or paying bills or any number of things that might be currently on my to-do list because I am on the train heading someplace I obviously need to get to, so therefore I am already being productive with my time. Because I choose not to drive, that means I don’t have to worry about traffic signals or inclement weather while I’m trying to get from point A to point B. All I have to do is get on the train and be cognizant enough not to miss my stop. So if you see me on the train, plugged into my music with a glazed over expression on my face, no need to worry – I’m actually “writing”.
If you’ve never ridden public transportation before, if you are a writer, you should really do it at least once. It is a great lesson in learning to write believable dialogue. Is it rude to eavesdrop on the conversation taking place in the seat behind you? Probably. But public transportation puts you in such close quarters, it’s often impossible NOT to overhear what’s being discussed right next to you. So if you find yourself on a crowded train, I highly recommend leaving the headphones off for a change and doing a little dialogue research. I personally think the best way to get a feel for real dialogue is to listen in on a conversation that you aren’t part of. On the train you get people from all walks of life talking to friends, lovers, children, coworkers. Try and formulate what kind of characters you are listening to and figure out how they know each other and what their backstories are. You never know when a train ride might develop into a full-fledged story for you. You might even overhear something that's simply too strange for fiction.
Aside from the free time to sit and think and the lessons in dialogue, one thing you’ll soon pick up on after eavesdropping on your fellow passengers is that the train also makes an excellent setting for a story. I’ve written several short stories that take place on either a bus or a train. It is a setting that changes based on the time of day – morning rush hour verses late night post bars-closing, for example. At certain times you can have the train almost to yourself, at others, you are packed in so tightly that you may learn more about the stranger next to you than you ever wanted to know. You’ve got wealthy professionals and you’ve got beggars. You’ve got retirees and students. You’ve got experienced riders and you’ve got tourists frantically realizing they boarded the wrong train ten stops back. People coming from all walks of life find themselves riding the train from time to time in a place like Chicago. As a daily rider, I get the pleasure of observing, taking note, and letting my story unfold.
So next time you’ve got a little case of writer’s block or maybe just need some great people-watching time for inspiration, I highly suggest you catch a train if you have one near you.
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